From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
How a place of healing suddenly became a scene of slaughter
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
14 Aug 2002 15:47:26 -0400
Note #7385 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Rain of terror
How a place of healing suddenly became a scene of slaughter
by Joseph Lall,
Administrator of Christian (Presbyterian) Hospital
TAXILA, Pakistan - This is my part of the story. I am certain everyone in the hospital has a different experience to recount.
It had been raining almost all night, and everyone at the hospital was very happy that the extreme water shortage we have been living with all summer might be over. The night before, children and even older men and ladies happily walked around in the cool rain. That is not a tradition, but after weeks of intense heat and high humidity, one just feels like walking around in the cool rain, enjoying the blessing of rain.
I woke up once in the night, hearing the patter of rain, anticipating a cool day and not many patients, for once. Then, happily, I went back to sleep.
In the morning I went to check on the rig that has been drilling a water well.
I purposely decided against taking an umbrella. The rain falling on my head felt good.
As usual, I stopped off in our workshop to see that everything was OK. I was told: You have no umbrella. I replied that I didn't want to stand in the way of the Lord's blessing by carrying an umbrella and inviting the rain to stop.
It was drizzling pleasantly while I walked to the Chapel. I came in out of the rain and sat on my usual bench, third from the back. Now the rain was getting heavier again.
Our morning service starts at 7:30. We begin our workday with a "Zabur" (hymn) and a prayer. Each day one Pakistani institution or group is chosen to be prayed for; this morning it was our choir. Because it was a Friday, the service included a brief talk by one of the evangelists. The service ended with the Lord's Prayer.
At the conclusion of the service, the ladies rose, as usual, and began walking out, moving slowly along an aisle just wide enough for two people walking side-by-side. The women, who sit on the left, exit first. The men, who sit on the right, were waiting their turn. I think there were three other people on my bench.
It was the 9th of August.
I had just stood up, falling in behind three others I took for fellow students. The rain had become a downpour, so there was a slowdown of the exiting ladies, all nurses and paramedical staff. They were opening their umbrellas, talking excitedly of the pleasant rainfall. We had been praying for rain for months; now our prayers had been answered.
The porch was packed with women and girls. I was stepping forward when there came an intense flash followed by a great explosion on the left side of the church. I fell on my right side with others falling upon me. I saw the blast's reflection in the Chapel's white ceiling.
My first thought was that lightning had struck. I thought: "My God, what an experience - and I am alive!"
The explosion stopped the clock at 7:48.
It was followed by a moment of deep silence. Then the screams started. Then the crowd in front surged back. I had fallen between the benches. They were trampling on my legs.
Then I knew that we were under attack. I had no idea what might come next, but I listened now for gunfire.
I pushed through the crowd, left the Chapel and saw the carnage - bodies, blood, broken umbrellas, torn-off clothing, blown-off shoes, nurses' white caps.
The rain was pouring down.
No one was left standing. The way from the Chapel door to the Chapel gate was clear.
I ran to the gate and shouted at the stunned gatekeepers and others standing around to run after the attackers. I ran out myself, then heard people shouting that one of the attackers was lying face-down with a grenade still in his hand.
He was about 20 feet to the right of the gate.
I thought, "My God, it's another suicide terrorist." But he looked dead. I ran back to the Chapel.
By then other hospital staff members had emerged from the Chapel. I shouted at them to bring the stretchers. I didn't realize that I had been hit by flying glass, that my ear was bleeding profusely.
Many other survivors were walking around in a daze, blood running from their injured places. Nearly everyone in the Chapel had been injured by flying glass and slivers of wood, but the grenades had been too far away to cause structural damage.
I ran to the canteen and asked for the outside phone. It was dead; the blast had broken the line. But the inside phone was working. I called my wife, Akhtar, and asked her to call the emergency police at 15 and tell them there had been a terrorist attack.
By now the "charpoys" (jute knitted beds we use as stretchers) were arriving and the injured were being transported. Trolleys and stretchers from the hospital wards were also in use.
There was no panic. The entire staff was efficient and cool, doing what they were trained to do. It looked as if they had rehearsed this routine many times. It was incredible.
The doctors in the Chapel crowd immediately began examining the injured and deciding which ones needed to be transported first.
At the time of the blast, morning work was already starting in the operating room, which is about 200 yards from the Chapel. By now all the doctors - Dr. Ernest, Dr. Naz, Dr. Pramila, Dr. Phyllis, Dr. Julius, Dr. Felix Gill, Dr. Javed - were together in the OR. The operating rooms, normally kept very clean, were now a mess, with blood and mud everywhere.
The Pharmacy staff was bringing in IV bags and bandages. All available rooms were being used as emergency rooms.
One victim was declared beyond help. The body was quietly wheeled to a side room. The doctors said some would have to be moved to a large hospital nearby. The workshop staff took the seats out of the vans in record time, creating ambulances.
The air was filled with the screaming and crying and praying of onlookers.
One badly injured person was loaded into a van, which sped off - but returned within minutes. That lady is no more with us, we were told.
Another nurse succumbed to her injuries.
I called home and asked my son to send messages to all the email addresses we have. That was the first news you all got of the tragedy.
Someone pushed me into the operating room and showed me to a doctor. I was told to hold a hankie to my bleeding ear and come back later.
The medical staff was working with a quiet efficiency. It struck me again that they seemed oddly familiar with this routine.
My turn came about three hours later. Dr. Ernest offered me local anesthetic, but I chose to get sutured without it. One can feel the needle pricking and then the suture being pulled through. I think the shock had anesthetized the left side of my head; I did not feel too much pain.
The recovery room was became an intensive-care ward.
By now the police had arrived and blocked off the entrance to the hospital against the crowds of people who wanted to see what had happened. Most had thought initially that the Chapel had been hit by just another lightning strike.
Then, of course, came the police interviews - first with people from the local police station, then the Deputy Superintendent of Police of the sub-district, the Superintendent of Police of our district, the Senior Superintendent of the entire Rawalpindi Division, then the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Punjab Province.
Then came the federal Minister of Minorities and finally the federal Minister of Law.
Police interviewed everyone who had seen anything. Most people had little to report.
Then came a horde of radio and newspaper reporters. The BBC and CNN and God knows how many others. I and Dr. Ashchenaz sat in the office next to the Chapel, giving interviews and answering the calls that were pouring in.
The rest is history:
How three young men approached the Chapel gate, one stopping by the gatekeeper, the others, with bags on their shoulders, moving toward the Chapel but being halted by a shout from a guard.
How the terrorist near the gatekeeper pulled a gun on him and pushed him into the little cubicle by the gate.
How the girls in the crowd saw two strangers running toward them and heard the fellow at the gate shouting to his comrades, in Pashto, to throw the grenades and run.
How one terrorist was killed by a grenade pellet.
How the grenades fell and exploded simultaneously on the footpath, just behind the first four ranks of girls, so that some of the victims were hit by the hurtling steel balls from the front, some from the back.
How one girl was blown into a chain-link fence nearby.
How some of the nurses ignored their own injuries and kept on working to save others' lives.
How people rushed to all the other hospitals to give blood.
How the grenades left craters three feet across and two feet deep.
How one pellet flew all the way to the other end of the church and pierced the picture of Christ kneeling in Gethsemane Garden.
How Parveen, one of those who died, had the entire top of the grenade in her abdomen.
How the police brought in the big computer van and showed pictures of suspects to witnesses, who within 20 minutes had positively identified the culprits, whose faces were indelibly imprinted on their minds.
How the girls in front escaped with comparatively minor injuries.
How all the Muslim friends who have known this place came and cursed the terrorists.
How it has become known that 99 percent of the population believes all white people are Christians and so attacked us, for being Christians.
It looks as if this place of healing will now be looking like a place under siege. It will not look very nice, but it may have to be done.
It will cost money to buy firearms, rebuild walls, install metal detectors and hire additional security staff. That will burden our finances. Our patients will suffer the consequences.
We are living in a dangerous new world.
We know now that Christians everywhere are praying for us.
We know the death toll could have been much higher. I know that I might not have survived to tell this very tragic story.
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